S Korea holds drill despite war threat
Seoul, December 20, 2010
South Korea held live firing drills in a disputed area on Monday despite threats of war from Pyongyang after an emergency UN Security Council meeting failed to agree on how to defuse the crisis.
The drill, delayed from the weekend by bad weather, lasted almost two hours with near constant artillery fire, some near and some distant, which shook air raid bunkers on the island of Yeonpyeong. There was no immediate North Korean response.
"I can't exactly tell how many have been fired, some are distant and some are noisy. The bunker is shaking and people here are worried, including myself," said a Reuters witness.
There was no incoming fire. On Nov 23, the last time Seoul conducted firing drills from Yeonpyeong close to the disputed maritime border off the west coast of the peninsula, Pyongyang retaliated by shelling the island, killing two civilians and two marines in the worst attack on South Korean territory since the Korean war ended in 1953.
But amid the tension there was also a report of a potential diplomatic breakthrough, with US troubleshooter Bill Richardson winning concessions from North Korea on the return of nuclear inspectors, according to CNN.
North Korea warned last week that it would strike even harder if the latest drills went ahead. China and Russia have cautioned Seoul against holding the exercise, while the United States has backed South Korea's right to hold the drills.
New Mexico Governor Richardson, visiting Pyongyang to try to ease tensions, won agreement from North Korea to allow UN
nuclear inspectors to return, according to CNN which has a team travelling with him.
Pyongyang "agreed to allow International Atomic Energy Agency personnel to return to a nuclear facility in the country and agreed to negotiate the sale of 12,000 ... fuel rods and ship them to an outside country, presumably to South Korea", CNN said, quoting correspondent Wolf Blitzer in Pyongyang.
"The North has also agreed to consider Richardson's proposal for a military commission between the United States, North Korea and South Korea as well as a separate hotline for the Koreas' militaries."
The South Korean Foreign Ministry said it could not confirm the agreement. "We do not have the specific details yet, so it is too early to make an official evaluation," a spokesman said. - Reuters